When The Going Gets Tough
We all have bad days and sometimes those bad days can turn into a bad week, a bad month or even a few bad years. When my late cousin was diagnosed with cancer, my aunt had a terrible two years where she couldn't feel joy for as long as my cousin was ill. The year after my cousin died was not any easier.
I've also met another grieving mother who told me she was devastated when her firstborn died in his infancy but was then overjoyed when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy a few years later. Everyday, she is filled with happiness seeing her baby growing up, which is a massive contrast to how she felt in the years after her firstborn died.
Life is a marriage of both ease and difficulty; no one can escape this set package. The sooner you accept this the easier it is to navigate through all of life's hardships.
When my grandfather passed away mid last month, it disrupted my usual routine and left me numb despite knowing that he wasn't getting any better. My family received an influx of visitors even after the funeral and for the first few weeks after his death, I didn't have the chance to really process how I felt.
Now, if you must know, when my late paternal grandmother passed away while I was in uni, I couldn't write for over a year. Whatever it was I was feeling at that time, it really affected me psychologically and I struggled to put my thoughts into words. It was a major setback for me because my whole degree was centred on writing! Month after month, I was in a constant writer's block so I deleted my old blog as a result. I had no clue what grief was at that time but had I known, I would have felt less hopeless.
Make no mistake: grief can be life-changing in a really wonderful way and I hope anyone who is currently mourning the loss of someone they love, knows that they will find moments of relief in between the pain. Biidhnillah.
Looking back, everyone and everything that was taken away from me left more room for better things and some of them were far beyond what I could imagine. Heartbreak left me more room for joy. Disappointments taught me to better manage my expectations. Failed plans taught me to be creative in problem-solving. Broken shallow friendships created room for beautiful, honest souls in my life.
When you're going through something difficult, it's hard to imagine that things can get better or that something good can come out of this. But believe me, there will be goodness waiting for you but the secret ingredient is sabr (patience). You can't know what is good without experiencing the exact opposite. Sometimes when I look back at my old diary entries or even my old blog posts, it's hard to believe I was so gloomy before.
If I rewind my life to my teens, I was struggling with both a depressive and anxiety disorder (I've written about it on NST here). And I remember exactly how I felt at that time, it was the same feeling I had when I lost my cousin: I had no idea if I was ever going to get over how miserable I felt. I didn't know when it would end and I didn't know if I'll ever taste happiness again.
That was back then. Fast forward to this day, I've learnt to take each day as it is with the help of Allah SWT. Whatever trouble comes my way, I try to relay it back to Him as frequent as I can. "Ya Allah, if this is what You want for me, please grant me the strength and patience to get through it." I try not to start any tasks without saying bismillah or a doa however short it is.
Sometimes we forget that how we begin a task determines the end product. What are your intentions before pursuing something?
I wouldn't trade my problems for the world
I'm really really grateful for all that I went through in school, university and working life because I don't know if I would know how to be grateful had I gotten everything that I ever wanted. I'm a relatively positive and chilled person now because of all my past failures.
High school was not a golden period in my life—I was not one of those students who got straight A's while barely studying. I struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem while trying to keep up with exams and assignments. I also struggled between juggling my academic performance and my social life. Let's get real here: when you are a teen, being validated by your friends is SO important. You care so much about how they see you because you just want to fit in!
That phase in my life was really tough on me because I attended excellent schools and was always surrounded by brilliant students who balanced both extracurricular activities and academics so well.
I know for some people, especially those who aren't used to failures and disappointments, once life starts going downhill for them, they become the most defeated person on the planet. They become bitter, lose all hope and believe life is so unfair.
I'm going to tell you something you'll hate and it's a lesson I had to learn it the hard way, too. Sometimes, you just have to just suck it up and put on your big girl shoes, even if you're crying while doing it. Don't ever believe that failure is a bad thing or the end of your beautiful life.
I think we've all been taught in schools to have great ambitions and we get excited to pursue our hopes and dreams. The tough bit is: we weren't really taught how to deal with failure in any form. When things don't unfold the way we thought it would: what next?
There are TWO possibilities that can arise from this:
- It's not your time YET. You can try again and inshaAllah you'll succeed on your next try.
- This isn't for you AT ALL so you have to figure out a different path to embark on.
Wanting what isn't yours is a no-no
I often get messages from young teens and adults telling me they wish they had a more 'perfect life', sometimes they go as far as to say that they want MY life. Had The Almighty wished for you to be in my shoes, He would have, but instead, in all His Wisdom, He decided that your story was going to be different from mine, probably even more exciting, to be honest!
Have you ever also considered that perhaps Allah SWT knows that you wouldn't be better off in my shoes? Have you ever considered that perhaps you are where you are because it is actually good for both your dunia and akhirat? Whose plans are better? Yours or His?
There is absolutely no such thing as a perfect life and the best kind of life isn't one that is free of hardships, heartbreaks or failures. Failing doesn't make you a failure and success doesn't always make you a successful person.
And please remember this: someone else's success does NOT diminish yours.
How are YOU defining YOUR success?
Does your vision of success need to change? Or is it YOU that needs to change in order to achieve your definition of success?
There are many types of success: materialistic, academic, spiritual, physical, personal, marital. The list goes on.
The worst mistake you can make is simply follow everyone else's definition of success without considering what you want. Having a white collar job might mean a lot to your friend but if it doesn't much to you, you don't have to be doing the same thing just to feel that you're on the right track.
The problem with us is we expect good things to come right away. You've to learn to sit through the storm in order to see the rainbow. Good things take time and if you're going through an emotional time now, know that you won't be going through it forever. You're going to have good grades and bad grades, good jobs and miserable jobs, good friends and crappy friends, good relationships and horrendous ones. Learn to find humour in whatever situation you're in; a good laugh can really turn a bad situation around. Seriously, I follow so many comedy accounts online.
I also think it's important to see how Allah SWT fits in the picture. Nothing bad happens to a mukmin remember?
Be content with your given portion
I can't stress how much wanting someone else's life will DESTROY your inner peace and is a complete waste of time. Don't torture yourself this way. Your life is special even you don't believe it right now. The problem with wanting someone else's life is you ignore how different your path is to everyone else's. In this life, even siblings don't receive equal portions of rizq (provision)—you each get your own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Your life story has been written by the BEST of writers, have faith that every chapter of your life is good for you, this is what tawakkul is all about. Practise sabr when times are hard and inshaAllah, the good times that follow will taste far sweeter.
Just a few months ago, I was sobbing uncontrollably after confiding in my ustadh about something that was really bringing me down (I'll write about it in the future), and he told me: "Macam mana nak rasa kemanisan kesabaran jika kita tak diuji?" How can we taste the sweetness of patience if we are not tested?
After hearing those words, I remembered thinking: God, how lucky I am to be given this opportunity to turn to Him. Perhaps in the weeks or months before this, my ibadah (worship) was severely lacking in sincerity and focus. But now that I'm going through a rough patch, I'm forced to re-evaluate where I am with Allah SWT. How pathetic is it, that here I am, only putting in the effort to fix my quality of ibadah once I've been denied what I wanted or when something has been taken away from me.
In the weeks that followed that conversation, I saw how different I felt now that I was reminded even the most bitter of experiences can be sweet once I see that Allah SWT is in the bigger picture. The problem with us is we only see how OUR plans fit in the picture. When we are angry and disappointed, we throw God out of the bigger picture because we don't see how He's relevant to our success.
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ - 2:155
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ - 29:2
Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried?
There's no such thing as a perfect, dreamy life. We are only given an imperfect life with pockets of perfectly happy moments. I know movies and magazines tend to glamourise celebrity lives and make us aspire towards such a lifestyle but it's like chasing smoke—you'll never get it! I'm not saying you can't attain great amounts of wealth, you definitely can. But don't be surprised if one day you get everything you asked for and you're still not happy.
Look at your own plate
STOP comparing! I realise that most people only begin to feel inadequate or insecure when they compare themselves to others. Once you start asking why someone has more than you, you're forgetting Who is the One giving them their sustenance. You only get to see what they show you; they may be lacking in a lot of things that you can't see.
Don't compare your life to another person's unless you're doing it to improve yours or theirs. At the end of the day, there are many different paths to success. You don't have to live life at the same pace as your siblings or friends in order to be a success.
Get rid of what you don't need
Contentment isn't just about acquiring or achieving what you want; is is also about GETTING RID of the unnecessary. I prefer using the word 'contentment' over happiness because happiness is a temporary high while contentment is more meaningful and lasting.
- Get rid of the envy that you feel when someone gets what they want and you didn't.
- Get rid of the anger you feel when you think someone received something they didn't deserve.
- Get rid of unrealistic expectations: work on achievable goals and set out a plan on how you can achieve them.
- Get rid of 'friends' who don't bring out the best in you nor do anything to help you succeed. When I was doing A-levels, I was SO close to dropping out because I couldn't handle the pressure but my best friend knocked some sense into me (in a very garang way). Had I given up on my A-levels, I don't think I would have gone to journalism school!
Happiness is just an emotion
The one thing that all creations have in common is: impermanence. What you're feeling right now whether it's good or bad; it will end. Even sadness will be interrupted by moments of happiness even if it's just for a few seconds. Don't rely on a fleeting emotion as a driving factor to keep on living.
There is GOOD reason you're still alive
My soul sister Shahirah Elaiza once shared with me advice that couldn't have come at a better time as I was feeling so demotivated to the point I wanted death to come sooner. Yes, I go through very low points in my life as well and it's a feeling I've to always fight. In Sha's own words:
"But as long as Allah SWT keeps us alive, it's for a good reason. Whatever problem/situation you are in, find a way out if you can. Living in dunia is a jihad (struggle). Even if we find happiness, it's not forever. That's the nature of dunia. Temporary. Use whatever that has happened to empower you and lead you to Jannah. As for death, it won't come a minute later or sooner than when it's supposed to."
Good friends are a blessing; having the right company can really help keep you on the right path. May Allah SWT keep the people of taqwa, strong iman and good akhlaq close to us at all times. May He also guide us to remain steadfast, even in hardship. Amiin. <3